Son of suspected raider bids for 40% of Moldova's largest bank

Son of suspected raider bids for 40% of Moldova's largest bank
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest May 11, 2016

One of the sons of controversial Moldovan investor Veacheslav Platon has reportedly placed one of the two bids for a stake of around 40% in Moldova’s largest bank Moldova Agroindbank (MAIB), reported on May 10 quoting unofficial sources.

Moldova’s central bank blocked the voting and other rights of shareholders holding nearly 40% of MAIB shares on March 2, after they were found to have been illegally coordinating their actions. The shareholders were also asked to sell their shares within three months, a deadline that expires on June 2.

Platon is already believed to be the ultimate owner of the 40% of MAIB, according to investigations by Rise Moldova, so if his son eventually buys the MAIB shares, it would mean moving the bank’s shares from one pocket to another. Platon's 21-year-old son Igor says he received the money from his father, who declared €60mn worth of personal assets during a fiscal amnesty in 2012.

Nonetheless, such a deal would at least improve the ownership transparency in the country’s banking system – one major recommendation made by the International Monetary Fund in the context of discussions about a new agreement with the country.

The central bank confirmed that there are two bids for the 40% stake, but said it could not reveal investors’ identities.

Platon was the author of several large-scale raider attacks in the former Soviet space in the past decade. He is suspected of having taken control over MAIB in 2013 through firms registered in UK, Cyprus and the Baltic states. The investment vehicles asked by the central bank to sell their stakes for alleged coordinated actions are believed to be controlled by Platon.

In April, the National Financial Market Commission (CNFP) drafted the procedures to be followed if the shareholders asked to sell their shares failed or were not willing to sell. The decision was issued in another case, involving a 3.5% stake at the same bank. But the same procedure will most likely be enforced if the owners of the 40% stake fail to sell their shares.

Specifically, CNFP issued an order to cancel 3.5% of the shares in MAIB, and for new shares to be issued and put up for sale. According to the decision approved by the CNFP on April 7, after the share cancellation the bank should issue new shares which will be put on sale on Moldova’s stock exchange for a period of three months. Should the sale fail, the new shares will be cancelled and the bank’s share capital decreased.

One of the shareholders of the 40% shares in MAIB, Russian limited liability company Evrobalt, sued Moldova through a Swedish arbitration court for violating a bilateral investment treaty after the central bank blocked its shares. Evrobalt has invited the other shareholders whose shares at MAIB were blocked to join the case.

Evrobalt currently holds 4.5% of MAIB. According to the bank, it purchased a 3.75% stake in 2013 from another group of coordinated shareholders that had been identified by the central bank and forced to sell their stakes. The identities of the 2013 group of coordinated shareholders and of the shareholders identified in 2016 are equally unclear, though there is speculation they could be the same people. There are rumours that both groups were coordinated by Platon.

Platon already controls another large Moldovan bank, Moldinconbank, according to investigations by Rise Moldova. Moldincombank was reportedly been involved in the illegal transfer of $46bn from Russia, which is currently being investigated by the Russian authorities. St Petersburg-based businessman Alexandr Grigoriev was arrested in Moscow in November 2015 for the alleged laundering of $20bn through Moldinconbank with the help of Moldovan corrupt judges, Rise Moldova reported. Moldincombank confirmed the transfer of money, some MDL100bn but claimed that the operations were fully legal. The value of the transfers matches the $5bn suspected to have been transferred from Russkiy Zemelniy Bank to Moldinconbank and further to a bank in Latvia.

Platon has also controlled Victoriabank, reportedly now under the control of his rival, Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. On November 13, 2014, 38.3% of Victoriabank’s shares were sold in 14 deals at a price of MDL19.5 per share. The total price was MDL186.7mn (€10mn). The buyer was Insidown Ltd. The sellers were firms reportedly related to Platon, who in the past has purchased stakes from a non-transparent entity reportedly controlled by Plahotniuc, the deputy head of the Democratic Party of Moldova. The owner of Insidown remains unclear. The final beneficiary of the stake is a listed as Dr. Peter Paul Fischer, born Tabsch. Victoriabank reports list Fischer as a dentist who operates in Bucharest and Berlin. However, it is doubtful that he is the final beneficiary of such a large shareholding, given the financial resources necessary to buy such a stake.

Platon currently claims not to run any businesses in Moldova, after moving his focus on Ukraine. In a scandal dating from 2010, the Moldovan Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the Ukrainian state-owned Energoatom had to pay $23mn and another Ukrainian firm, Pozit, had to pay $6mn in damages to a Gibraltar-registered company Remindton Wordwide Limited, allegedly controlled by Platon. In January 2015, Energoatom’s assets on the Moldovan territory were seized in favour of Remindton, according to a court decision. Currently, the case is under litigation at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR), reported in May 2016. The decisions of Moldovan courts are enforceable across the CIS.

Energoatom is a 100% state-owned enterprise, subordinated to Ukraine’s ministry of energy and coal industry. It was established in October 1996 as the operator of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Energoatom’s four nuclear facilities are comprised of 15 operating nuclear power units, 13 of which are VVER-1000 reactors and two VVER-400, aggregating a total installed capacity of 13,835 MWe.